The Wealth of Nations


The Wealth of Nations


Adam Smith’s quintessential work of classical economic philosophy, Wealth of Nations, is seen as one of the most influential philosophical works of the entire Enlightenment era. In it, Smith bashes Mercantilist economic policies for their backward, unproductive effect on economies. Instead, he advocates for what he calls Laissez-Faire economics, meaning that the government plays a minimal, if not non-existent, role in their state’s economy. These theories could be seen as the birth of economic Liberalism, building off of John Locke’s treatises which advocate minimal government involvement in the everyday lives of its citizens. Smith goes further to say that the government should not touch the economy in any way in a capitalist system to have a genuinely productive and Liberal economy.
Though Smith’s arguments could be seen to have developed in, and only in, a period of intellectual vitality such as the Enlightenment, it could be argued the period preceding the enlightenment had enough intellectual virtue to incubate Smith’s philosophical developments. Historian, Joel Mokyr argues that the developments and intellectual exuberance of the Scientific Revolution, which occurred before periods of liberal economic theory when mercantilism still reigned chief, were vital in setting the stage for the Industrial Revolution, which has a direct correspondence with the enlightenment in England based on their time periods (roughly the second half of the 18th Century)(1).

1. Mokyr, Joel. “Accounting for the Industrial Revolution.” Chapter. In The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, edited by Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, 1:1–27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521820363.002.


Adam Smith


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Adam Smith, “The Wealth of Nations,” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023,

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